Hard work leads to groundbreaking career for Husker alum Tyler WortmanBy Phil Carter
Mechanical Engineering alumni and former
Husker Blackshirt Tyler Wortman at work at Amazon.
For me, I just loved the challenge and being told ‘you can’t do this’ and then going out to do it.Growing up, Tyler Wortman wanted to do two things: play football at Nebraska and help people.Tyler Wortman Mechanical Engineering Graduate
He accomplished his first goal after walking on to the football team in 2004 and eventually starting at linebacker as a senior. And he’s accomplishing his second goal by working as a senior manager at PillPack, designing and building pharmacy fulfillment centers for Amazon Pharmacy.
“For me, I just loved the challenge and being told ‘you can’t do this’ and then going out to do it,” said Wortman, who was not highly recruited by Division I football programs but chose Nebraska because he always wanted to be a Husker football player. “I didn’t have a bunch of stars as a recruit and people told me I wasn’t going to play if I went there but I wanted to do it. I didn’t shy away from any challenges.”
His career journey began inauspiciously as it involved working in biotechnology at a small startup to his current role with Amazon, one of the largest companies in the world. It’s with Amazon Pharmacy today where Wortman leads a large team of engineers who automate and produce prescriptions (online) for customers with safety and quality at the forefront.
“I’ve actually worked at places where there were two employees at the beginning, then grew to more than 1,000 employees over time,” Wortman said. “Amazon has over one million employees worldwide and is a multi-billion dollar company, so I’m fortunate to keep coming across these diverse opportunities that help shape my career.”
Wortman has made the most of his opportunities whether it was being a stellar student-athlete in high school to starting all over again in college as a walk-on backup to eventually starting for the Nebraska football team – all while balancing an engineering student’s rigorous schedule.
“It was all about prioritization. School first, then football,” he admitted. “I still had time to have fun but it was also a lot of work.”
The walk-on program created its own success levels for Wortman, who began on the scout team. Eventually, Wortman worked his way on to special teams and progressed up the depth chart as a backup linebacker before earning a starting role his senior season.
“It’s all about character building and learning to develop essential life skills in the classroom and on the football field,” said Wortman, who grew up near Grand Island, Nebraska. “School and football are very similar. You get amazing support from professors, coaches, and teammates who build a foundation to always keep learning and improving.”
Speaking of teaching, Wortman credits Lederer Professor of Engineering Shane Farritor for teaching him valuable lessons throughout college as well as during his early professional career. Farritor, who joined the UNL Department of Mechanical and Materials Engineering in 1998, served as a mentor to Wortman, who worked for the multi-faceted professor in his surgical robotics lab.
“He paved the way for me to get more involved in a variety of engineering projects while I was a student,” Wortman said of Farritor. “I learned a lot from him.”
In Wortman, Farritor saw a hardworking Nebraska kid, forged on the Plains but honed in the classroom.
“Tyler was the kind of student you love to work with – talented, hardworking and a good person,” said Farritor, whose research includes robotics, artificial intelligence and entrepreneurship among other interests. “When you put opportunities in front of him, he’ll take advantage of that and big things happen. It has been exciting to watch his career skyrocket, but it hasn’t been a surprise.”
Before coming to Nebraska, Wortman worked for his father’s landscaping and irrigation business doing everything from mowing lawns to designing irrigation systems to installing equipment. While he excelled in the classroom and on the football field, wrestling mat and on the track team, Wortman was focused on earning a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering. That is, before he met Farritor.
“I had zero desire to go into graduate school when I was an undergrad,” Wortman admitted. “It wasn’t in the cards for me but as I got closer to graduating, I looked at what other students had time to do that I didn’t. Because of football, I didn’t have time to do internships and while I did great in my mechanical engineering classes, I lacked the work experience companies want when hiring new graduates.”
The more Wortman looked into graduate school, the more encouragement he received from Farritor to look into furthering his research experience. Working in Farritor’s lab as a grad student, Wortman was part of a team building robots, exploring everything from aerospace engineering to biomedical sciences. With Farritor’s encouragement, Wortman worked his way into the Ph.D. program at MIT.
“He believed in me and helped me see that the more you explore, the more you expand your opportunities for success,” added Wortman, whose launch of Amazon Pharmacy last fall was several years’ worth of hard work and dedication from Lincoln to Boston to Phoenix.